Ministry of Gossip

Inside Vanity Fair's Oscar party (yes, Ben and Jen were there)

The Vanity Fair Oscar party has long been recognized as the most exclusive Hollywood bash of the year. But until you actually pass through the event's hallowed doors, it's hard to understand what all the fuss is about.

And just getting to the door is difficult. First, you and your 13-year-old Prius must join a long line of black SUVs waiting to pull up to the event and go through three security checkpoints — the same number of stops a car must make to park at the actual Oscars.

And once you arrive, if you're just a plebe, like me, you must agree to a set of rules. No interviewing anyone. No tweeting. No picture taking. Notes may be taken on your phone, but only in a corner, where few will notice you. Oh, and you can only stay for an hour, so make the most of it.

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At this point, you're probably asking yourself: Why even go? And then Lady Gaga and Elton John get out of a white Rolls-Royce in front of you and are promptly serenaded by a mariachi band. And suddenly you're like, yeah, I guess there are worse places I could be.

Though the Vanity Fair party has bounced around to different venues over the years — Morton's Steakhouse, the Sunset Tower, a random West Hollywood parking lot — on Sunday it was held in a custom space that connects the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and Beverly Hills City Hall. This is the second year in a row that the magazine has opted to throw its party at the location.

Sure, it's kind of a trek from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where the Oscars take place, but that didn't seem to stop anyone from making the 4.7-mile journey. (Guys, in L.A., that can be a long way. Seriously.) After I awkwardly ran down the red carpet — where celebs were showing off their costume changes from the Academy Awards — I walked into the party and saw half a dozen big stars before I even turned my head. There was Caitlyn Jenner, statuesque in a red gown, chatting with Kris Jenner's BFF Melanie Griffith. Selena Gomez, wearing something shiny. Oscar presenter Sofia Vergara, sans hubby Joe Manganiello. And songwriter Diane Warren, who was upset that her song with Lady Gaga had been overlooked by the academy. (Sam Smith won for his song in "Spectre.")

"I mean, it's my eighth time losing. I didn't think I'd lose this time," she said, shaking her head. "I mean, [Lady Gaga] gave the best performance I've ever seen in my life. That's like an Oscar moment of all time. I guess I'm just the perennial loser. I mean, it's like everybody is talking about it."

If Warren was looking to drown her sorrows at the party, there was certainly plenty of comfort food available to help her out. Servers were walking around handing out In-N-Out burgers and sugar-glazed beignets from Bouchon. And the stars — likely relieved to be at the tail end of award season — were actually eating. I saw Rooney Mara eat French fries. It was interesting.

There was a lot of smoking too. Cigarette girls were wandering around carrying trays of smokes containing either actual nicotine or just sugar. Courtney Love seemed to be a fan of the candy version, as I saw her gnawing on a few of the confections throughout the evening.

I feel that listing all of the celebrities I saw in just one hour is kind of meaningless, because frankly it'd probably be easier to list the famous people who weren't there. The star-to-civilian ratio was so high that celebs were even waiting up to 20 minutes to step into the photo booth. While Lana Del Rey piled in with a bunch of her friends, models Emily Ratajkowski and Ashley Graham were patiently waiting their turn in the queue.

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Elsewhere, many partygoers seemed transfixed by Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. The actress, of course, is on the cover of Vanity Fair this month, saying some less-than-glowing things about her estranged husband. While I didn't witness any PDA, the two did seem cordial around each other and spent the majority of the party by each other's side. Other star couple sightings? Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, Miranda Kerr and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, a very pregnant Anne Hathaway with husband Adam Shulman, and Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake, who seemed to know everyone in the room — he got huge hugs from P. Diddy and "SNL" video collaborator Andy Samberg.

Silicon Valley showed up in force as well — Spiegel chatted with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, and Apple CEO Tim Cook made an appearance. Not surprisingly, though, the person who seemed to attract the most attention was Taylor Swift. She didn't roll up to the party alone, obviously: She needed a squad of some sort. On Sunday, said squad was composed of her brother, the singer Lorde, model Lily Aldridge and Aldridge's husband, Kings of Leon guitarist Caleb Followill.

Fortunately, just when my hour was up at 12:45 A.M., Ms. Swift was also heading for the exit. She passed Nick Jonas  — high five, "How's it going, buddy?" — and departed. But as she and her posse emerged onto Santa Monica Boulevard, fans lined up across the street spotted her and begin chanting her name. She took cover in a tent that had been erected for guests to wait in while their cars were pulled around. Patricia Clarkson, sitting on a couch bleary-eyed at the late hour, seemed amused by the gaggle of tall, pretty girls. Less star-struck, however: "Love" star Gillian Jacobs, who was hanging out with "Game of Thrones" star Emilia Clarke.

Jacobs was more interested in those beignets. While waiting for her ride, she grabbed a bag of the Bouchon donuts — guests were given to-go packets upon exiting — and tossed a few in her mouth. And that's how you end an award season right.

Follow Amy Kaufman on Twitter @AmyKinLA. Follow the Ministry of Gossip on Twitter @LATcelebs.

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